Despite a premature burial, the Big East isn’t dead after all. A conference that began as a basketball-centric association more than 30 years ago is rehashing its primal form to prove it.
The Big East’s seven non-football members are expected to start their own league beginning next season but will retain the recognizable league name, according to an ESPN report published Thursday. Xavier and Butler of the Atlantic-10 will join the Catholic 7 schools — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Villanova — in a new, hoops-focused affiliation.
Creighton, per the report, has emerged as the favorite to become the league’s tenth team. Were they to accept an invitation, the Blue Jays would even out the field and join the conference next season.
Fox Sports Network, which has been shut out of the college basketball market, has reached out to the seven Catholic schools and urged them to ditch the Big East with the promise of a lucrative media-rights deal. ESPN signed a seven-year deal with the current Big East Conference worth $130 million, but that value is expected to nosedive when the seven basketball schools depart.
It’s unclear what the future holds for Cincinnati, Connecticut and South Florida. Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist and Temple are on track to join the Big East next season for all-sports inclusion. Temple already became a football member last fall.
Pittsburgh and Syracuse leave the Big East for the ACC in July, while Louisville and Notre Dame will follow suit in 2014. Notre Dame pledged its loyalty to the Big East for the 2013-14 academic year under the condition the Catholic schools stayed as well. If the Catholic schools do secede, the Fighting Irish will explore their options — either joining the ACC a year ahead of schedule or latching on to the new Big East for one year.
The greed of college football, which penetrated the Big East well after basketball was established, turned the league into a giant hodgepodge ripe for interleague poaching. But basketball tradition ultimately won out, earning the coveted naming rights of a brand that’s never forgotten what it’s always been about.
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